David Truss, inspired in part by Vicki Davis’ post “The Future Wave of School Volunteerism: Be the Textbook” and my post and podcast on “Connecting students with real-world experts” inspired by Texas Teacher Rachael Tucker, has created Fieldfindr: A space where teachers can meet global citizens who have skills that they are willing to contribute to a class. The site is a wiki-based mock-up of an idea (shared by several) to create a virtual portal to connect classroom learners with outside experts. In his post “Portal Needed to Connect Classrooms to the World: Global Citizens can Share Talents and Skills with Students,” David explains his vision of the portal as a synthesis of social networking and web 2.0 tagging aggregation sites:

The site could be sort of a combination of Warlick’s HitchHikr and MySpace or Facebook. (In a way it is more of a matchmaker site.) You can sign up and log in as a teacher, or as a willing contributer (Volunteer) in your field of interest. Basically Volunteers create a profile listing talents and skills. Then they set up a time-line of when they would be interested in helping with, or presenting to, a class. Then teachers can contact volunteers who have profiles of interest. There could be an opportunity for volunteers to contact teachers too, but I think this should be done through a contact page like this, rather than by direct e-mail.

This reminds me of Judi Harris’ nonprofit Electronic Emissary (http://emissary.wm.edu/) telementoring service and research project. (It started as the “Wings” project when Judi was at UT Austin.) In this case however, instead of connecting novice teachers with mentors, we’re talking about connecting classroom learners with outside expert-learners. ePals has a similar matching service for teachers, but it is used to connect teachers to peers doing Internet-based projects. David goes on to describe the site’s potential functionality and benefits:

I believe that there is a need for a fully committed portal site that is dedicated to: CONNECTING TEACHERS TO GLOBAL CITIZENS THAT ARE WILLING TO SHARE THEIR TALENTS WITH A CLASS.

At a dedicated portal:
Tag searches could easily be set-up. (See my ‘Super Tags’ post [*coming soon])
Teachers could find other teachers to help them.
Positive relationships between business and education can be formed.
Success stories could inspire teachers hesitant to explore web2.0
Retired teachers or field experts can be tapped into.
There is so much opportunity for collaboration! (I came up with this list in about 3-4 minutes… and I’m sure you could add to it:-)

David Warlick and Will Richardson are speaking out about the need to bridge the communications gap between classroom learners and knowledge workers outside the school’s walls. I think everyone involved in these conversations are on to compelling ideas here. And there are resources “out there” that can help bring this vision to reality. I’m excited about these possibilities too!

We need to be safely, appropriately, and powerfully using technologies like videoconferencing to engage students and connect them with other novice as well as expert-learners more than we are in most classrooms today relative to the cost of fixed-room videoconferencing equipment. I had a conversation yesterday with a first grade teacher who said she would LOVE to do videoconferencing like this, but doesn’t know where to start and doesn’t have anyone to help her in her school building. The advocacy that needs to be done for this type of instructional interaction has several levels, which include:

  1. Raising the awareness levels of teachers and administrators about the value and practical “do-ability” of these types of connections.
  2. Identifying and obtaining the resources to make these connections (which involve coordination with school district IT departments.)
  3. Locating expert-learners who can be connected to the classroom, and then coordinating the scheduling of the connections.
  4. Providing professional development and on-site (in-classroom) support for teachers to help make these actual connections happen.

The proposal David is discussing here addresses phase 3.

Using desktop videoconferencing technologies like Skype is not limited to bringing in “expert learners” as guest speakers to classrooms, however. We also can and should be connecting students with each other. Brian Crosby has posted a AMAZING five minute video created by his 4th grade students, telling the story of how they use Skype to synchronously videoconference in Celest, a 4th grade student who has leukemia and is homebound.

Take time to watch this short video. There are many remarkable things to say about it, but one has to be: The technologies they are using (an internet-connected computer, a webcam, and skype) are VERY affordable and accessible today. The video is titled “Inclusion.” GREAT WORK, Mr. Crosby’s 4th grade class! You are modeling for the world what many more learners across the globe need to be doing: Opening up doors for learning that would be closed otherwise. Last April I shared a keynote address in Dallas titled, “Open the Door – Conversation, Complexity, and Messy Assessment.” Brian and his students are doing it!

Skype

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  • https://musingsfromtheacademy.wordpress.com/ astephens

    Wes,

    Thanks for this post! I think the more volunteers who realize they can “volunteer” from the comfort of their home, the more we will have ready and willing to help us out.

    By the way, if you haven’t read Alvin Toffler’s interview in the latest edition of Edutopia, you might want to give it a read. He has some interesting ideas about the future of education (one of which is to include more community members).

    http://musingsfromtheacademy.wordpress.com/2007/02/20/a-futurist-speaks-of-schools/

  • http://21stcenturylearning.typepad.com Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

    As an outreach of my ICT course with preservice teachers I include a virtual mentoring project that connects classroom learners with outside expert-learners. Not only are some incredible folks from the all over the international blogosphere mentoring my preservice secondary and elementary students in Tapped In- but many of them are sharing their expert advice during virtual Mondays. Want to see who the mentors (expert learners) are?
    I listed and linked here:

    In the spirit of constructing knowledge together as a learning ecology the students and I are building the course together. It is incredible. You can follow the progress and listen to the archives of the virtual monday sessions on the wiki.
    TechEnhanced Learning

    If you would like to be a mentor– drop me a line.

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